To sum up: What is happening in Ukraine is horrific and tragic, but I think we should all be on guard to the possibility that it is even worse. My worry is that this invasion looks very much like the result of a prearranged back-room deal.
All Xi Jinping needs to do now is make vague disapproving noises, while letting events unfold. Whatever the outcome, his country will come out ahead.
If the invasion succeeds, two things happen: (1) A 21st century precedent is established for a large autocratic country annexing, by military force, a smaller neighboring democracy. (2) Russia, being economically isolated, will have only one large customer left to purchase its reserves of natural gas.
If the invasion fails, Russia will still be economically isolated, and also very weakened. To remain economically viable, it will have little choice but to turn to the only big friend it will still have.
Either way, China wins. But if the invasion succeeds, then Taiwan is in a perilous position.
And that doesn’t just mean immense human tragedy. Because of Taiwan’s position as a global supplier of high-tech components, it will also cause enormous economic disruption throughout the West.
So for many reasons, let’s hope Putin fails. But in any case, my greatest fear is that he is, in the end, no more than someone else’s useful idiot.